U.S. Plans to Test DNA of Immigrants in Detention Centers

Immigrants wait to speak with U.S. Border Patrol agents before being transferred to the McAllen Border Patrol facility on July 02, 2019 in Los Ebanos, Texas.
Immigrants wait to speak with U.S. Border Patrol agents before being transferred to the McAllen Border Patrol facility on July 02, 2019 in Los Ebanos, Texas.
Photo: John Moore / Getty

The Trump administration is moving to start testing the DNA of people detained by U.S. immigration officers, according to reports of call on Wednesday between senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials and reporters.


Justice Department officials are reportedly developing a new rule that would allow immigration officers to begin collecting the private genetic information of those being held in the more than 200 prison-like facilities spread across the U.S.

The New York Times reported that Homeland Security officials said the testing is part of a plan to root out “fraudulent family units.” Children and people applying for asylum at legal ports of entry may be tested under the proposed rule, which is likely to elicit strong concerns from privacy and immigration advocates in coming days.

The officials also said the DNA of U.S. citizens mistakenly booked in the facilities could be collected, according to the Times.

DHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Immigrants arriving in the U.S. are held in a variety of facilities, from the processing centers supervised by Customers and Border Protection (CPB) to the notoriously mismanaged facilities overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Nearly 20 percent of detainees were held in contracted detention facilities owned and operated by private prison companies by end of 2017.

Approximately 49,000 people were being detained by ICE as of May 2019, according to the National Immigration Justice Center. The number of people detained increased roughly 40 percent since the Trump administration enacted its “zero tolerance” immigrant policy. More than 800,000 people have been apprehended at the southwest border in the past year.


Dire conditions in the facilities have led to outcries from human rights groups and federal lawmakers. A report by the DHS Office of Inspector General published this year found that detainees face a variety of serious health and safety risks. The inspectors discovered, for example, that many housing units were damp and covered in mold. They also witnessed “foul smelling and unrecognizable” food being fed to the prisoners. The risk of illness due to the conditions is high.

At least seven children are known to have died in U.S. immigration custody since the start of the Trump administration.


[The New York Times]

Senior Reporter, Privacy & Security



Data from the DNA pilot program suggests that 20-30% of those suspected of being “fraudulent families” were in fact unrelated. As long as there is some backup verification process for people who don’t pass DNA tests due to child adoption, why would we take issue with this?

Gizmodo’s own sister site reported that up to 80% of Central American girls and women migrating to the US through Mexico are raped. While we can’t do a whole lot to protect people during their journey through Mexico, it seems pretty reasonable that we might take some extra measures to help prevent human trafficking at the border.

Besides that, in order to be eligible for asylum you must be able to prove that you’re subject to persecution in your home country. For people who are fleeing that kind of awful situation and seeking a better life in the US in order to keep their families safe, a rapid DNA test at the border crossing is the least of their worries.